The BBC is supposed to inform, educate and entertain. Children's programmes used to do those three things as was clear from the enlightening BBC Four series Children's TV on Trial (see blog on 9 April 2008) However, a once vibrant department has, with a few exceptions, been reduced to a wasteland of mediocrity. Whilst the BBC Trust has been candid in presenting the stark figures of declining audiences, nevertheless it has avoided the wood for the trees - i.e. it has largely failed to investigate whether programme content might have a significant bearing on the decline in reach.
The Trust say:- In terms of delivering the public purposes, we are concerned at the apparent decline in usage of BBC News by young people. We also continue to believe that the BBC could do more to provide output that is original and different and shows fresh and new ideas .... (p.25) It fails to draw the appropriate conclusions from the huge discrepancy in audience reach between CBBC and BBC Switch.
An example, taken from the 1980's Children's TV on Trial, shows that programmes used to be relevant to the needs of kids. Check how the BBC kept in touch with its young audience:-
Narrator: ... television's first agony uncle, Phillip Hodson talked viewers through the serious business of growing up.
(archive film clip) Phillip Hodson: You are still at primary school. You've already finished your puberty. You're only 10, and you've finished. (reads letter) I'm tall and broadly built, but I have to wear a bra.
Narrator: But it wasn't all about hormones and heartache. Uncle Phillip tackled some of the thornier issues of the day.
(archive film clip) Phillip Hodson: Because AIDS is a disease that can kill, because we're afraid of diseases that can kill, and because there's no cure for AIDS - so what happens is that rumours fly and there's more ignorance about AIDS than almost anything else.
And the same programme showed how drama dealt with issues of the day:-
Lee Macdonald (actor from Grange Hill): The issues that were tackled with Grange Hill would be within normal schools anyway - especially comprehensives schools that I was brought up in. You've got bullying, your shoplifting, there was pregnancies within school kids. And I think that was where the stories were so strong and they were taken so seriously....
Steve Woodcock (actor from Grange Hill): We had things like the National Front that you had to contend with, and you'd be going to school with children whose parents were members of the National Front. So yes, Grange Hill was, I think, very true to what was going on at the time ....
What with the recent election successes of the BNP, perhaps it's time for kids' TV programmes to again be honest and forthright. The BNP should be identified as a racist organisation, and therefore beyond the pale. Newsround failed to do this in Adam's report last Monday (see blog 8 June 2009)